The number of pre-embryos that are transferred to the woman’s uterus is determined by the chances of fertilization, and this varies with the woman’s age. A sufficient number of pre-embryos are needed to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. Those that are not needed usually are frozen.
Embryos that are not transferred to a woman’s uterus ultimately may be used for research purposes or destroyed. Embryos in the uterus may be destroyed by selective pregnancy reduction. In these instances, further embryonic development has been halted by the action of a physician with the likely consent of the couple. Can the destroyed embryo be said to have been wronged? The answer to this question is contingent on the perceived ontologic status of the embryo. If the embryo is viewed as a human being with the rights normally associated with personhood, arresting its development will be considered a wrong because it constitutes an act of murder. On the other hand, if the embryo is perceived as a bit of protoplasm, neither freezing nor destroying it is inherently unethical.
Considering the human pre-embryo or embryo to be protoplasm overlooks the fact that it differs from every cell in a woman’s body and can be identified as human by its DNA. Thus, science supports the view that human life begins at conception. Some conclude from this that the pre-embryo is a person who possesses rights from the moment of conception.
However, personhood is a social construct that is shaped not only by an understanding of objective nature but also by community needs and values. It is not surprising that different concepts of personhood have been adopted at different times and places. Aristotle indicated that ensoulment (personhood) occurs 40 days after conception for the male fetus and 80 days after conception for the female fetus. Muslims believe that personhood occurs 14 days after conception. From the 17th century onward, European common law recognized personhood only after quickening. Within this historical context, any attempt to decide when protoplasm is endowed with rights by merely resorting to a scientific examination of biologic processes is bound to fail.
A broadly accepted view in today’s world is that the human organism becomes a person at the moment of birth. A competing position is that personhood begins at the moment of conception. Adopting this latter view weighs against selective pregnancy reduction and research on embryos and might require that all embryos be implanted. The Catholic Church is the major proponent of the view that the life of a new human being begins at the moment the ovum is fertilized. According to Catholic teaching, viewing a human individual as a person dictates recognition of the rights of the pre-embryo as a person.
Is a pre-embryo a person from the moment the ovum is fertilized? According to Thomas Shannon (1997), the answer is no. He states that not until totipotency gives way to specialized cellular development, which occurs approximately 3 weeks after formation of the zygote, can we correctly speak of the pre-embryo as an individual. Before this time, the pre-embryo is not an individual and, therefore, cannot be a person. Although science cannot provide a concept of personhood, it appears, in this context, to have provided a necessary condition for human individuality without which personhood is not possible. However, Shannon acknowledges that the biology of the pre-embryo will eventuate in an individual who is a person.
Focusing on the argument from totipotency results in the conclusion that human individuality and, therefore, human personhood does not begin until some weeks after the ovum is fertilized. If we emphasize the fact that the fertilized ovum normally will develop into a person, then the argument from potentiality may lead us to conclude, along with the Catholic Church, that the embryo is a person from the moment of conception. Because the existence of personhood bars us from abusing or killing a person, the logical conclusion is that pregnancy reduction and embryo research are immoral. The Church would like us to believe that personhood occurs at the moment of conception, and Shannon would like us to believe that prior to 3 weeks’ gestation, the pre-embryo falls short of being a person.
As already noted, personhood is a social construct based on community needs and interests as well as on biology. These needs and values find their expression in the way we see things. For example, one person looking at the softly rolling hills of California might react by “seeing” God as the invisible landscape architect who made the beautiful placements of the live oak trees, while another might “see” these placements as the effect of soil conditions, wind, and rain. William Werpehowski “sees” the human face in the pre-embryo when he says,“ Following fertilization, the human zygote is a genetically unique, individual human organism that in its immediate appearance displays to us the human countenance.” However, many do not “see” a human countenance in the pre-embryo. For them, personhood is conferred on human organisms with whom human interactions are possible or occur. We can cuddle a baby; we cannot cuddle a zygote. We coo at an infant and he or she responds by smiling; zygotes do not smile. An infant grasps a proffered finger; a zygote cannot. Babies have personalities and embryos do not. That is why babies are persons and embryos are not.
Prima Facie Demands
Nevertheless, some have argued that although a pre-embryo is not a person, it does have special status and, therefore, is to be treated with special respect. Richard McCormick cites these considerations to support his belief that “the potential of the pre-embryo for person-hood makes powerful prima facie demands on us not to interfere with that potential.”
A prima facie demand is one that cannot be interfered with unless it is overridden or trumped by more powerful ethical considerations. However, identification of a more powerful ethical consideration is determined partly by the perceived ontologic status of the pre-embryo. As McCormick has pointed out, there is broad moral and legal recognition that the pre-embryo is too primitive to have any interests or rights. Thus, its use in research or its elimination in pregnancy reduction, which either directly or indirectly satisfies the needs or interests of human beings, is a more powerful ethical consideration than treating the pre-embryo with special respect. Indeed, unless the pre-embryo is viewed as having rights from the moment of conception, interference in its development to benefit persons is warranted ethically. Unfortunately, any discussion about the special status of or special respect for the pre-embryo, which may have symbolic value, does not contribute to resolving the question of whether its destruction is a wrong.
Essay on Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization
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In Vitro Fertilization
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” With these words, Socrates stated the creed of reflective men and women and set the task for ethics: to seek, with the help of reason, a consistent and defensible approach to life and its moral dilemmas (Walters 22). Ethical inquiry is important to us when we are unsure of the direction in which we are heading. “New philosophy calls all in doubt,” wrote John Donne in the wake of the Copernican Revolution and of Charles I’s violent death, suggesting that new thoughts had challenged old practices (Donne). Today, new practices in the biomedical sciences are challenging old thoughts: “New medicine calls all in doubt” (Walters 22).
Few moral convictions are more deeply…show more content…
Since the study of ethics is all about what is right and what is wrong, it is not possible to come to a correct conclusion unless one is directly appointed by God to make this conclusion. God is the only One who can correctly decree what is ethical and unethical; we as imperfect humans should not even attempt to do this job.
IVF raises many of these difficult moral issues. If the above conceptions about the nature of ethics were correct, however, discussion of these issues would either be futile (because morality is a matter of personal choice or opinion) or superfluous (because morality is what a divine or secular authority says it is) (Walters 23). In this paper, I want to suggest that it is not only possible, but also necessary to inquire into the ethics of such practices as IVF because the fact that we can do something does not mean that we ought to do it.
To begin with, I will provide the basic medical facts involving IVF to give a solid understanding of what goes into the whole process and what facts involving this process cause the questioning of the ethical and moral issues. Infertility affects about 4.9 million couples in the United States, or one in every twelve. Approximately one-third of infertility cases can be traced to causes in the female (Encarta). However, a small proportion of infertile